Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One volcano, four countries, three different stories

(Don't try to figure this picture out if you are not caught up on Lost)

Unless you just woke up from a coma, you probably have heard about the whole volcano-out break-flight situation. I mean, even my mom heard about it and she doesn't have TV or radio and she doesn't read newspapers.

On Friday afternoon E and I are scheduled to take a flight from Chicago O'Hare to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. And while it looks pretty promising right now with flights seemingly going back to normal, I am only going to be happy when the plane I am scheduled to board in two days, safely lands on Dutch soil (and I am on it).

Ever since I first heard about the volcano eruption, I wanted to be/stay as updated as possible. I was watching American morning news at that time and I was sure they would report about this. After all, when Michael Jackson died, hell, even when Corey Haim died, they had ample coverage on that. But apart from Al Roker doing his weather forecast from Iceland, there wasn't really anything. Some channels mentioned it but nothing that gave me more info then I already had - that a volcano had erupted in Iceland and that there was restricted air travel in Europe. Clearly most Americans aren't that interested in what is going on over there in Europe (or that's what the news channels think).

Next stop - CNN. I don't really watch CNN that much. Funnily enough I used to watch CNN a lot when I was living in Europe. Towards the end of my time in Europe, I watched a lot more Euronews than CNN but for a long time CNN Europe was one of my favorite news sources. Unfortunately CNN is not what I remember it to be. I am not sure if that is because I have changed and become more critical or if CNN has changed. A bit of both, perhaps. Anyway - CNN didn't only have news they had THE news. According to CNN - Europe was in chaos. And that Eyjafjallajokull wasn't even that much of a problem. But what if the volcano next to it erupts? Because according to CNN that was almost definitely going to happen and then, folks, then we'd really be in trouble. How much trouble, CNN didn't want to say but it would be BAD.

This got me so scared, I decided to forego American news altogether and instead focus on European news. After all, Europe was a bit more personally invested in this whole schlamassel.

Of course this meant I didn't check The New York Times - which I usually consider a good news source.

Next on was the BBC. BBC News, while still having a bit of a sensationalist edge to their news reporting ("Watch interviews with angry, stranded people! Are you stranded and want to tell us your story?"), was a lot more informative.

But still, they didn't give me the info I wanted.

Next on, I went to read the website of the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. I'll be honest with you - I don't really keep up with Austrian news that much, not even the politic news. I decided to leave the country a long time ago and even though I am still homesick for it sometimes, I pretty much decided when I left, that I would probably never go back to live there again and with that I lost most of my interest in their politics. But I still read Der Standard sometimes - because it's a good newspaper. And it didn't disappoint this time either. They were the first to inform me that all Austrian airports had re-opened on Monday. They also kept me updated on the "hight" of the ash and all that without being sensationalist about it.

For good measure I also started reading the Dutch website and of course KLM (the airline which hopefully will fly us to Amsterdam on Friday). Both websites, while not providing you with pages and pages of info, did provide me the most necessary facts.

While I understand that reading about the volcano situation is not as important for Americans as they are not as impacted by it, I still think that it is somewhat condescending of the mainstream, American media to shut out international news as they do. I am not just talking about the case of the volcano - I found out about the earthquake in China by trying to find news about the flight situation on European news websites. I remember about a year ago when that earthquake in Italy happened - I was in New Orleans at the time - without internet connection and I was trying to find out more about what happened through TV and newspapers. But there was nothing about it except the mare mention of the fact that there had been an earthquake! I truly believe that Americans would be interested in what is going on in the world even if it happens on the other side of the planet.

It has been 1.5 years since I left Europe and I NEED to get back, if just to burst my "Europe is so great"-bubble. Because while I often sound anti-American - I am totally aware that nothing is as good as you remember it.
So wish us luck that everything goes alright for us in the next three weeks!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where I'm at

There are the kind of New Years resolutions you make and you know the moment you make them that you won't be able to stick to them - like "Cut out cheese and alcohol" or "work out every single day" or "call your mother every other day" (obviously those might not be a problem for you but I was never able to stick to any of those). But if you set yourself goals, it's different. I think the difference between a goal and a resolution is that you have to actively plan a goal to make it happen. And in the long run, this is what will enable you to achieve these goals. And of course, you'll need a little bit of discipline as well.

For 2010 I had four main goals:

1. Live a healthy lifestyle - which means learn how to cook better, learn how to use seasonal ingredients, cook organic, work out more - especially get some upper body strengths (as a photographer one has to be able to move quickly and lift heavy equipment)

2. Learn to love myself

3. Make friends - make a conscious effort to stay in contact with new people you meet and you like (this for me is still the most difficult - I have met a lot of interesting people and I have had a much more active social life in the last 4 months than I had all of last year but I am having difficulties to get these new friendships to a deeper level)

4. Become a professional photographer

I have talked about 1. and 2. a lot already and I feel like I am doing ok in these departments.

Both "Make friends" and "Become a professional photographer" kind of go hand in hand I have found. But more about that later.

Three years ago I started to take professional photography classes (via correspondence) at the New York Institute of Photography. I'll be honest with you - the first two years I got hardly anything done. I was still working full time, I had a very active social life and I just couldn't be bothered. If you have a working life - even if it's not the working life you want - it's difficult to motivate yourself to change that.
Last year I made the decision to work as a nanny and to use the time that the kid I am watching is napping, solely as studying time. I was able to make great progress and I am now done with these classes. It took me about 6 months to get the last 5 Units in. I still have to send in my final project but it's all done - I just have to find an envelope pretty much.

Still, I didn't feel nearly confident enough to try and make it as a professional photographer even with this education. I frankly had no idea where to start. But luckily that changed when a friend introduced me to Angie, a professional photographer. Angie invited me to a meeting called "The Fast Track Photographer Chicago Group". It was only their second meet up. The group refers to a book by a guy called Dane Sanders who wrote the book called - you might have guessed - "Fast Track Photographer". This book is being re-written right now and I am on a waiting list for it on Amazon but unfortunately I haven't been able to get my hands on an old version thus I haven't read it. But anyway - one of the main principles of the book is that while the photography business is very competitive, we will still be more successful if we co-operate and network with each other as photographers then if we bad-mouth or ignore each other.

Thus this group formed. The first time I joined I was at their second-ever meet-up in Chicago. There were about 20 people (by the third meet-up the number of people in attendance had doubled), it was at somebodies house. Everybody was extremely welcoming and open and for the first time I just felt like, I can do this. Some of these people had studied photography but a lot of them just started doing it because they like it. They had less photographic education than I had and they had become incredible, professional photographer nonetheless.

I did also realize though that if I wanted to feel completely at ease and comfortable with what I am doing, I would have to take more classes. A correspondence class can give you a lot of knowledge but some things are just easier if somebody shows them to you. So I singed up for two evening classes at the Chicago Photography Center. One was Fundamentals of Lighting - it covered mostly studio work - a topic I knew hardly anything about, the other class was "Lightroom". I have taught myself some Photoshop but for an aspiring portrait and wedding photographer "Adobe Lightroom" is much better and easier to use.

On top of these classes, I took a few more workshops and seminars. I can tell you that the last two months have been super-busy for me. Especially considering that last year I pretty much did nothing at all except occasionally volunteering and my part-time nannying job. I finished my last class last Sunday and I had a seminar last night but this is going to be it for me until after my trip to Europe in a week. I am a little bit relieved to get a break from all this learning since I feel like I can't focus on anything but photography right now but at the same time it feels absolutely amazing to be a step closer to doing professionally what I have always been wanting to do professionally.

One thing you need to know if you want to become a photographer - you will always need to invest - in yourself and your equipment. I am shooting with a Canon 40D right now - an excellent camera and ok for portraits and most weddings but it has it's limitations and I will eventually have to upgrade to a better camera. I also just invested quite a bit of money into a professional lighting kit that I can easily take with me in the car for shoots. I can use it to build a studio pretty much anywhere (except underwater I guess). But keeping yourself educated is just as important. The seminar I was at yesterday was on how to be a good 2nd shooter at a wedding. A second shooter is a not-so-experienced shooter that basically is a mix of a photographers assistant (who does stuff like fetch the primary photographer a sandwich and park the car) and an associate photographer who takes pictures that the main wedding photographer might not be able to get. I was surprised to see a lot of established photographers there who shoot a lot of weddings as "primary photographers" - but as I said - you have to keep yourself educated.
So, I already decided to sign up for another class for when I come back from my trip and I also decided to volunteer as an assistant to the photo teachers at the Chicago Photography Center as this is an excellent learning possibility.

Having done all of this I haven't really had much professional work yet. A big part of getting business is networking and this is one thing I haven't been great at. The photographers I know network all the time. They go to events and parties constantly. They all know each other. For me to go out there and talk to people I have never met is really difficult. I have been forcing myself to do it more but believe me, it's not easy.
I wish it could just be like "Look, I do good work, if you like my style - hire me!" but unfortunately networking is a big part of this game. So I am working hard on that.
I also found that there are two groups of photographers - the "mainly wedding" people - who are all super-outgoing and hug-y and sweet and who smile a lot and the more artistic photographers who usually end up becoming photography teachers to fund their artistic photography. Both kinds seem happy though but I am at a point where I wonder in which group I belong and if I can ever be the hug-y, smiley person that people like to hire as their wedding photographers.

So, sorry for my long rambling here. But this is where I stand. For those of you who read this blog because you are interested in what is going on with me - now you know.

All in all, I have to say my life made a complete turn in 2010. It is so different from last year, it's incredible and I love it, even if it is a lot of work and I have to make myself do things that I am not always comfortable with. But that's what you have to do if you want to get further in life, isn't it? Being comfortable won't get you anywhere.

Monday, April 12, 2010

About organic chicken

Since I have started this blog people have found it a lot of different ways.

1. I read a lot of other blogs and comment there and then people check out my blog.
2. People search for a picture of Genesis on Google - I linked to a Genesis picture in my blog post "Prove Yourself" - how exactly that works, that I get about 3-6 hits a day through this picture, I do not know but if I ever start a blog for my professional photography stuff, I might have to link to that picture on there too.
4. People put me on their blog roll on their own blogs (thank you!)
3. People Google something and find my blog. Those can be all kinds of stuff like:
"How to become a nanny in Italy" (Sorry, no info about this here but I can help you if you ever want to become a nanny in Chicago!)
"Cup of coffee" (I do write about that!)
or weird ones like "bad boy anal beads" (seriously - I don't know how somebody found my blog googling that but the fact that I just wrote this down will probably bring more people googling that term to my website)

But one search term that leads a lot of people to my blog is "Organic chicken" or "Pasture chicken in Chicago" and so I thought it might be a good idea to give you more info on the subject. I have become a lot more knowledgeable since my last post on the subject, so if you are still looking for an organic, pasture chicken (who are allowed to run freely, outside, eat grass and bugs instead of seeds) - here are a few tips:

*Go to farmers markets - they are the easiest way to find pasture chicken - ask the people who sell the meat - they are usually also the people who raise the chicken. If you don't get straight answers, it's probably shifty and not what you are looking for. If they seem like they don't know what "pasture" means, find somebody else to buy your chicken from. If they can show you pictures of how their animals are living or if you have a chance to look up their farm online and you see that the animals are running around freely - you have a winner.
*Go to - this is a website that will show you which farmers in your area sell organic and/or pasture meat, eggs and diary. It will also tell you when the farmer is where, so you can track them down.
*Once you find an organic farmer but you don't live right next to them - find out when and where you can find them, where they have drop-offs - and then stock up. We have a tiny freezer but I could easily fit two whole, big (5 pound) chicken and a pork shoulder in there. And that didn't even fill up half my freezer. If I buy a big thing of bacon, I freeze it in bags of three or four strips which I then defrost when needed.
*If you have a chance - go to local food fairs. I went to one about a month ago and I got a ton of information. I even bought some stuff there (there were about 4 meat vendors).
*Consider joining a CSA - you essentially buy your way into a farm and you get part of whatever they reap - veggies, fruit and often also meat. Just make sure it's a good farm and you can afford it in the long run.
*Be careful and consider what exactly you are looking for. What is important to you? That your family doesn't eat food that contains antibiotics or that the animals you are eating had a good life? For me - both are important and thus I make sure I know both are covered. But if you are mostly concerned about what goes into your body, buying amish chicken or normal organic chicken from the butcher or grocery store will do. Make sure that it says "Has never been fed antibiotics". As I have said before - Amish chicken is NOT pasture chicken! If you buy a chicken in a grocery store and it doesn't say "pasture" or "grass fed" on it - it is not "pasture" or "grass fed" because you can be sure they would want you to know about that and have you pay extra for it if it was. Also - I have never actually seen a pasture chicken in a store in Chicago.

Now - eating pasture diary, eggs and chicken is a lot more expensive than eating normal chicken - I won't lie. But it's a decision you have to make for yourself. I went years saying "Yeah, I am all for animal rights if it wasn't so expensive to eat organic". And then I read Michael Pollans "In Defense of Food" and I thought to myself, I keep on talking about it, why don't I do it? At the same time I was sick of eating the same food and feeling like crap and not knowing what is going into my body, so I changed everything.

You can do it too if you want to. It costs more but it will also make you less wasteful. I use every part of the chicken. I even use the intestines that come with it (I bake them and then put them in with the carcass when I make chicken stock). I get about 8 servings of chicken out of one bird, plus about 8 cups of condensed chicken stock which is better than any store bought stock. I cook big amounts and then freeze for the days that I don't have time to cook. I cook vegetarian a lot. I plan out meals for the week, including lunch and breakfast. In the end, I am not sure it costs us that much more because we waste a lot less. I used to throw tons of stuff away all the time because it went bad and I hardly ever do that anymore.

So if you want to do what I (and a lot of other people) decided to do - give it a go. You can always ask me if you have any questions about it!

Now I am going to go and try to find out more about objects to put up your behind, so I am prepared for any upcoming questions.